And the Light Keeps Burning
Greece, 250 B.C.E.
Seraphina ran through the tunnels she and Asher had spent so long digging beneath their house, her red hair streaming behind her. The maze did not confound her, for she’d practiced her run through it many, many times before. Though she’d never done it alone. Asher had always been beside her. But now Asher was gone. Now Asher was—
Seraphina swiped the tears off her cheeks and kept running. There would be time to mourn her brother later.
Finally,she reached her destination. Buried in the center of their underground labyrinth was a rock pillar. And on top of the pillar was the necklace. Asher had kept his word and brought it here. Seraphina couldn’t help but wonder if it had been the last thing he’d ever done. Slowly, she walked towards the center of the cavern. She knew she should be rushing, but this would be the last place she would be able to feel Asher’s presence for a long while.
The necklace was simpler than she’d imagined. A black cord was tied in a loop with a knot and on it hung a softly-glowing yellow stone. Seraphina gently picked it up and hung it around her neck.
She’d expected she’d feel different after putting it on. Stronger. But she felt the same.
Suddenly,she realized that a piece of papyrus had been folded up underneath the necklace. Seraphina read the front. Asher’s handwriting. She took a shaky breath and slipped the letter into her pocket. She’d read it later. When she was ready.
She wished she could linger longer in this place she and Asher had built together,but she could already hear the Greek soldiers’ footsteps getting closer. She sprinted towards the exit as fast as she could.
After a couple minutes of running, she stepped into the fresh night air. Seraphina grinned as she realized that she wasn’t in the cave the tunnel led to. No, she was standing on the top of a hill just outside of Heraclea Minoa. She looked down at the stone.
“Yes,”Seraphina smiled. “We’ll get along just fine. Now let’s go spread some light.”
Antioch, 115 CE
Yara was fast asleep in her bed when the house started shaking. She bolted out of bed and realized the ground was shaking beneath her.
“Yara!”he cried. “We must leave now! Come!”
Yara hurried after her father as they ran into the street. She didn’t see her mother or brothers anywhere. She hoped they were all right. She hoped they were safe.
Just then, a tree appeared to rip itself out of the ground as it was launched into the air. Yara shrieked as her father kept steering her forwards. Suddenly, the ground buckled again and Yara fell backwards. She bit back the pain as her leg hit a fallen piece of stone.
She looked around. Where was her father?! Suddenly, she realized that just like the tree, the earth had sent her father flying into the sky.
“PAPA!!!!!”His body hit the ground with a sickening crack. Yara ran towards him. He was twisted at an odd angle and his eyes were cold blank. “PAPA!!!! No, no, no, no,” tears streamed down her face. He couldn’t be gone. He couldn’t.
Screams and crashes echoed around her, but Yara’s world had gone silent with her father’s dying breath. She shook his body, screaming, crying for him to wakeup. Rough hands started to pull her away. Yara kicked and flailed her arms, but whoever had grabbed her was stronger. The stranger cradled Yara in their arms and she got a glimpse of wild red hair before they started running through the broken streets.
Yara buried her face in the stranger's chest as more debris fell from the buildings around them and the earth grumbled beneath their feet. It was strangely safe there. Warm. Light. Before long, Yara had fallen asleep.
When she woke up, the stranger was tending to a small fire and Yara had been laid on the ground, covered with blankets.
“Whereis my father?” she asked.
The woman who had saved her turned to Yara. Her eyes were a clear green and her hair was the same scarlet Yara remembered. Around her neck was a cord with a small, glowing stone hanging from it.
“I’m so sorry,” the woman said. “I was too late to save him.”
Yara felt her eyes watering, but she managed to choke out, “And the rest of my family?”
“I do not know. The survivors will not be far from here, though.”
Yara nodded. “I need to find them.”
“First,let me give you something,” the woman said and gestured for her to come closer. Yara obeyed. The woman placed her hand over Yara’s.
Fora moment, nothing happened. Then the stone on the woman’s chest glowed brighter and Yara could feel warmth and light flowing through her.
“Keep the light with you. Good luck.” The woman turned to leave.
“Wait,what is your name?” Yara called after her. The woman turned back for a second and smiled slightly.
“You may call me Seraphina.”
“Then thank you, Seraphina.”
Spain, 1495 CE
Amaris jumped as she heard five knocks on the door. Her parents hadn’t said anything about visitors coming for Shabbat tonight, but maybe they’d forgotten. Still,she was cautious as she cracked the front door open.
She didn’t recognize the woman standing there. Her eyes were an odd green color and her red hair was tucked into a simple bun. Her clothes too, were simple, but gave off an air of elegance.
“Hello,” Amaris said hesitantly, unsure if this was a friend or foe.
“Hello,”the woman said as she reached into her pocket. Amaris tensed, but the woman only pulled out a silver chain with a Star of David on it.
Amaris let out a breath and held the door open for her.
Amaris watched the woman, Seraphina she’d said, carefully the whole evening. There was something strange about her. A good kind of strange. As they’d done their evening prayers in the back room without windows, her voice had been so beautiful and sad and hopeful that it made Amaris want to cry. And every time Seraphina had passed the fire, the candles had glowed a little brighter. She’d also made Amari’s little brother, Efrain, giggle with delight at one of her jokes, even though he’d barely chuckled in years. But as the night drew later and Efrain was tucked into bed, Seraphina had to go. Amaris found that she wished Seraphina could stay forever.
“Will you come back?” Amaris asked just before Seraphina walked out the door.
Seraphina smiled sadly at her. “I’ll try my best, but there are so many places that need my help right now. So much darkness in the world.”
Amaris nodded. There was too much darkness in the world. Especially here in Spain,where she and her family had to live in secrets, shrouded in darkness.
Seraphina touched Amaris’s hand for a moment. “But remember, the light is always with you.” Seraphina stepped out into the street with those last words, but Amaris was not sad anymore. She felt like a new sun was rising within her.
Gilia hated Auschwitz. She hated the Nazis and she hated Hitler and she hated that all of these despicable men could do whatever they wanted to her and her family. She hated that they’d killed her six-months-pregnant mother when they’d first been brought here and she hated that her father had been taken away two days ago to be experimented on. She hated that she hoped he was already dead.She’d heard the screams coming from the building where they’d taken him. Sheknew that no one came back from that building.
Gilia hugged her sister closer. It was the middle of the night and her back achedf rom all the work she was forced to do, but she couldn’t fall asleep. Janet never could either. Not when the nightmares were all around them. Some days, Gilia wished that they’d killed them both with their
mother. Then at least it would be over. Then at least she wouldn’t have to stand silent while theNazis ripped everything that was human away from them. But, no. She had to hold on to hope. The war would end eventually, and then she and Janet would be free.They could start over, somewhere new. Maybe in America. There weren’t any Nazis in America.
“Tell me a story?” Janet whispered.
“Of course,” Gilia said quietly, and then started to weave a tale of a daring knight who rode his pet dragon to the ends of the Earth to save the stars from falling. She made sure to talk quietly enough so as to not wake the three others who shared their bed. Slowly, Janet relaxed and fell asleep. Gilia hoped she’d have good dreams.
Suddenly,she heard footsteps padding through the clear space between the bunks. Gilia squeezed her eyes shut tight and thought, NotJanet, please not Janet, please not Janet. God, if you can hear me, please save Janet.
The footsteps stopped right in front of her. Gilia held her breath. A hand touched her shoulder. She steeled herself for whatever they were going to do to her next.
“Don’t be afraid,” a woman’s voice said softly. “If I wanted to hurt you, you’d be dead already.”
Gilia opened her eyes. A woman in a long skirt and black jacket stood at her side.Her dark red hair was tied in a braid and her eyes looked angry and sad.
“Who are you?” Gilia whispered.
The woman sat down on the floor and gestured for Gilia to join her. Gilia glanced to make sure there were no Nazis lurking in the shadows before she joined her.
“My name is Seraphina Lehrer. I was born 2,194 years ago. This stone”—she pulled a small rock on a cord out from beneath her coat—“has kept me alive so long as I continued to use it to spread light and hope. I have traveled the world, and seen many things, both horrible and great. I have met kings and queens, farmers and musicians and peasants, and everything in between. All the while, I have been looking for my successor. Someone else to take the stone and carry on its legacy. And that person is you.”
“Me?”Gilia asked. Of all the trillions of people Seraphina had met, why her? Just another girl in a prison camp.
“Because you already spread light, Gilia. I’ve seen it, in the way you keep hoping for abetter time, in the way you comfort those who have lost everything, in the way you keep up the spirits of the people around you, and just now, in the way youhelp your sister fall asleep at night. The stone will only allow you to reach more people and spread more light.”
“I…”Gilia didn’t know what to say. “Thank you.”
Seraphina nodded and removed the stone from her neck. It appeared as if a great burden had been lifted from her when it landed on Gilia’s sternum. The stone was light as air and felt warm through her thin uniform.
“When you step out the door tomorrow morning,” Seraphina told her, “it will take you to wherever in the world you most need to go. Make sure you’re holding your sister’s hand, and it will take her too. Farewell and good luck, sister. I’m sure we will meet again.” With a nod, she was gone.
Gilia clutched her hands around the necklace. The future was in her hands now.
Seraphina felt cautiously hopeful as she walked away from Auschwitz. Gilia had been the perfect choice. She would carry on the legacy well and Seraphina could live out the rest of her life in peace. Seraphina wished she could help the rest of the prisoners, but there was nothing more she could do alone and she already sensed that the war was drawing to a close. They would be free soon. Even so, she already felt as if a great weight had been lifted from her. She had not lived for herself in so long.
She just needed to do one more thing. She reached into her coat pocket and pulled the still unopened letter, now crumbling at the edges. Slowly, she unfolded it.
Dear Seraphina, my wonderful sister,
I do not know when you will read this,whether in two millennia or two
minutes since I died. But wherever you are in time, I am sorry I had to
leave you so abruptly. I needed to make sure one of us survived. To spread
the light. Just remember that you need to let go eventually, live your life,
get married, have kids, write a book,whatever makes you happy.
Keep the light burning,
Seraphina hugged the note to her chest. Thank you, Asher,she thought. Now she could truly let go. One last time, she turned her eyes back towards Auschwitz, where she could just make out Gilia’s figure, stepping out into the early morning. Seraphina smiled and murmured: “And the light keeps burning.”
Annika Liss is a fifteen year old who lives in Durham, Connecticut, USA. She loves writing and reading, especially sci-fi and fantasy. Some of her other hobbies are french horn, guitar, drawing, and attempting to keep her D&D group from murdering any more dragons.